Read the following this morning, and liked it so much I decided to look for more. :)
For those not familiar with Farley Mowat, he was a crusty but popular Canadian icon (he hated that label but I'm gonna use it anyway) who authored forty-one books (which I'm embarrassed to say I haven't read any of yet), a noted environmentalist, a lover of nature (not all environmentalists necessarily love nature I've come to suspect), an important critic, and an influential figure.
And while he wasn't vegan (although I like to think he eventually would have become so), he nonetheless was a champion for other sentient beings and certainly recognized the destructiveness of the human species.
For two in-depth articles on this rascally one-of-a-kind national treasure, click here and here, but I'll let Mr. Mowat have the last word:
“It is to this new-found resolution to reassert our indivisibility with life, to recognize the obligations incumbent upon us as the most powerful and deadly species ever to exist, and to begin making amends for the havoc we have wrought, that my own hopes for a revival and continuance of life on earth now turn. If we persevere in this new way we may succeed in making man humane ... at last.”
As you know, t-shirt activism is one of my favourite ways to spread the vegan word. This past summer (yikes, can you believe we're already talking about summer in the past tense?), I got three new ones and pretty much wore them all the time. The first Captivity Is Cruel tee got a few nods and "I like your shirt" responses:
The second Not Your Mom, Not Your Milk tee got the most polarized response ranging from a cold stare (given by a Farmers Feed People in Cities clad person, snort), to an enthusiastic "You're vegan? Wow, my respect for you has just gone way up" exchange with the checkout clerk (thanks again, Monika, in case you're reading this!) at my grocery store. I didn't hear it, but apparently, the otherwise-hip young couple behind me were rolling their eyes and saying how veganism was too extreme while M and I were discussing the tee.
And grocery stores, by the way, are one of the best places for vegan tee advocacy because when people are stuck in line, you've got a captive audience. Did I ever tell you about the time when a teenager behind me excitedly told her mom to look at my Food Is To Eat, Animals Are To Love shirt, and the five people behind them promptly demanded to see it too? Now THAT made waiting in line worthwhile. :)
But the vegan tee that got the most response this summer was the sweet and gentle Friends, Not Food, as it elicited a smile from just about everyone who saw it. It also got quite a few "oh, that's SO cute!" responses as well as initiating a couple of more serious discussions. But what I really liked about this t-shirt in particular was how it seemed to get non-vegans to see their food in a different light. I swear I saw at least one mental light bulb going off!
So, as a cooler fall begins, my tees will get a final wash before they're put away for their well-deserved rest. They did a good job this year, and will be summoned for vegan duty again next summer, along with a few reliable others. :)
Actually, we do, but it's so little known (I only ran across it myself a while ago) that it hardly even registers in Google search. Try looking for its cousins, and you'll find misogyny (hatred or dislike of women) coming back with a scary 1,640,000 results, misandry (hatred or dislike of men) clocking in at 1,100,000 results, and the more equal-opportunity term misanthropy (something I definitely fall prey to on occasion) yielding 542,000 results. But misothery? A paltry 1,780 results is all you'll get.
A shame, really, since the term itself (coined by Jim Mason in 1993) contains the resulting misery for animals right within its letters. I like this term, I really do. And it reminds me of the dangers when we don't have proper names for things so commonplace, so underlying just about everything, and yet so silent. Remember the world-changing effect when Betty Friedan described the problem that has no name? Naming is powerful, necessary, and exciting too.
The word misothery may have an awful ring to it, but I'm glad I found it, and will be adding it to my arsenal of tools to fight animal and human exploitation. Because these two types of exploitation are linked, with the one enabling and the other perhaps begetting, but definitely reinforcing. And who knows, maybe one day, certain acts of animal use and abuse will be seen more widely for what they really are: hate crimes based on species.
p.s. if you agree that this term is a damn fine one, and deserves a wider audience, please help pass it on :)
Two weeks ago, I wrote about being speciesist as I found myself feeling both relieved and guilty when I discovered that the dead animal I removed off the road was not a dog or a cat but a raccoon. Upon reflection though, I think one of the factors that made me less upset involved human responsibility. Or irresponsibility, I should say. While it's always sad when a sentient being meets its end, living near humans (especially when we've encroached on their habitat) is risky for wildlife. And even though humans shouldn't strike an animal on purpose and should do their best not to run over them again in passing, squirrels, raccoons and rabbits who scamper across the road risk being hit.
Cats and dogs, however, have no business being on the road and unless they happen to be feral, it's up to humans to make sure that they're not. In other words, when I see a dead cat or dog on the road, I blame their guardian. All dogs should be leashed when walked (I always cringe when I see dogs off leash on the sidewalk because you never know what will cause them to suddenly dart onto the road), and cats supervised if let outdoors. No, when dogs and cats end up dead on the road, it's not so much an accident I feel, but a dumb decision leading to needless death. And that, I think, is partly why I get more upset with certain species getting hit by cars.
A reader mentioned being more moved to tears about stories involving animal than human suffering, and I wonder if the same element is at play here. Most animal suffering is intentional in some way or for the benefit of human desire (e.g. factory farming), so when we see, for example, stories about chicken or pig barns going up in flames, it's even more heart-wrenching because we know that raising animals for food isn't even necessary. It's based upon human greed and appetite, and a complete denial about a sentient being's emotional life and a right to live their lives as free from human harm as possible.
Stories of human suffering though, are often self-inflicted, and involve humans doing stupid things to each other when they should know better. Unlike natural disasters, man-made disasters usually reflect greed at some level, meaning that humans are at least partly to blame. Actually, one could argue that certain natural disasters are the indirect result of climate change and global warming, which are the more direct result of humans not being as bright as they claim to be. While any kind of suffering is to be lamented, there's a greater innocence where animal beings are concerned, especially when it's through direct human action.
Familiarity, though, is also a key factor. We respond differently to beings that we identify as being more similar, or that we have more knowledge of. It is thought, for example, that folk tend to think of cats as being so cute because their round faces and pleading meows remind us of human babies. (For an illuminating discussion of how we, women especially -- myself included! -- infantilize other animals, please read the comment section of veganelder's post.) People have begun to respond to Esther the Wonder Pig on a large scale because they can perceive her personality (through the photos and words her dads share) and realize that when they eat pork, they're eating someone who could be Esther, someone who shares traits with humans that they can recognize. They're experiencing what Krissa means when she wrote, "...the more interactions and experiences that one has with different species, the more it's revealed that we are all the same."
So am I speciesist? Likely (probably, given that I wouldn't max out all of my credit cards if my cat got sick, but maybe would for a relative), but it's a matter of degree. And just as it's foolish to claim that because no one can be 100% vegan one shouldn't even try, recognizing speciesism when it rears its ugly human head (are all species speciesist though?) is better than not recognizing or acting upon it at all.
(Will update my speciesism post next, but needed to get this off my chest first.)
Within twenty-four hours three different kinds of animal abuse situations (actually, four, but one was so heinous I won't even mention it) came to my attention with the result that I felt like crawling into a misanthropic bunker for the rest of the weekend. "Misanthropic bunker" is a term I came across in Kim Stallwood's interesting memoir Growl, currently campaigning (ending tonight!) on Indiegogo.
Let me introduce the runner-ups first. Third (and definitely NOT honourable) mention goes to sheep-shearing sadists. Shearing sheep may not initally sound like the worst form of abuse, but as Debra Roppolo points out, sheep are gentle and kind beings, which makes the vicious violence demonstrated in these videos even more hard to take.
Second prize (although there are no winners here) is awarded to all who participate in, get ready for this, pig wrestling. Yes -- PIG wrestling. I thought I had pretty much heard of all the asinine ways in which humans treat other sentient beings (who in my opinion have more dignity than a lot of humans at this point), but no. Even worse is the fact that this dubious activity is being sponsored by grown-ups (the idea of pig wrestling could be amusing, you would think, only to drunk male adolescents) as part of a church event. Call me stupid, but I can't see the connection to spirituality here. Now, one church in particular is getting a lot of heat about this (despite massive protest the event went ahead yesterday), but sadly, pig wrestling is actually fairly common "entertainment" at many county and state fairs.
No drum roll please, but first place (not that ranking animal abuse makes sense except to human animals who seem to want to rank everything) is bestowed on the f@*#ing a$$holes who decided that Harry Harlow was such a hero that his despicable monkey "pit of despair" study should be replicated. Yep, "scientists" (I don't know how to convey sarcasm better than that I'm afraid) are being funded to study monkey maternal deprivation all over again. As if the original studies weren't horrendous enough, repeating them is monstrous.
At the moment I can't think of anything more dumb (although using monkeys to try and figure out whether smoking is bad or not for pregnant women--um, we don't know that yet?--is pretty close) and cruel and heart-breaking and possibly evil, and it's making me want to email the numbskulls involved and use language that would make the above slightly altered swear words sound like something a nun might say. Channel anger constructively is what I'm repeating to myself over and over lest I compose undiplomatic and tactless (but who says polite is always best?) messages that likely shouldn't see the Send button. So, there you have it. Never fear that human stupidity and cruelty will ever end, or that our work will ever be finished. :(
It's at times like this that I like to go visit Esther, who along with her two fine dads, reassures me that not all humans are hateful. In fact, I say we nominate them for a Most Likely To Put A Smile Back On Your Face award right now. Anyone second the motion?
The incident in question took place last summer, but honestly, I'm still not quite sure what to make of it. Looking out the kitchen window one morning while getting my lunch ready for work, I noticed an injured animal in the middle of one of the traffic lanes in front of my house. It was hard to see, but it looked big enough to be a puppy, so I quickly grabbed a plastic bag with the intention of at least removing the poor thing off the road so that they wouldn't be run over again.
Cars dutifully stopped (at 7:45am they may not have been too happy about it, but the alternative was to run me over as well) while I gently scooped the now-clearly-dead creature with the plastic bag and placed them underneath a tree across the road. I was late for work, so said a few words of "I'm so sorry this happened to you, rest in peace." and went on to do my shift.
The kicker of the story though is that while I felt badly for the being and was glad I had at least prevented more cars from carelessly driving across them, I also felt more than a tinge of relief (and subsequent pangs of guilt) when I saw that it [clearly it wasn't an it, but the rules of the English language are complicit in reducing animals to objects] wasn't a puppy, or even a large cat, but a raccoon. So what does that say about me? Because the truth is that I would have been more upset had the dead animal been a dog or a cat. Does that make me speciesist?
I believe the general definition of speciesism is being prejudiced when it comes to species and favouring your own above all others (please correct me if I'm wrong), but what about favouring some species over other species? Omnivores do it all the time when they happily munch on a pig while petting their pup, and while vegans make an effort to be less speciesist, is it possible to eradicate this tendency entirely? (Please note that I'm not trying to justify speciesism, but to understand it a bit better.) Especially when studies have shown that human infants as young as three months already exhibit signs of favouring those they perceive to be in their own group, and "othering" others, I can certainly see that discrimination based on species is the most difficult ism to recognize, let alone tackle.
And it reminds me of when as a brand new vegan six years ago, I ran across a group on Flickr called Speciesism and thought that that was going a bit far. Or when my sister-in-law (the most supportive of veganism in my family and the one who actually purchases some vegan products for herself) saw my Alice Walker "The animals of the world exist for their own reasons. They were not made for humans anymore than black people were made for white, or women created for men." button and let out an abrupt whoa as if to say, now that's definitely going too far. Ms. Walker, by the way, is no longer vegan and has decided that chickens are, for example, made for humans, otherwise I can't imagine why she's eating them again. Tsk, tsk, Alice.
My point is that speciesism is probably not the best place to start with pre-vegans or perhaps even vegan newbies, as the indoctrination of Animals Are Ours To Do With As We Will is just too strong and deep. Better to begin with animal cruelty and suffering methinks. But even to a more-seasoned-by-now vegan such as yours truly, speciesism remains a challenge. Because let's take those silly and worn-out hypothetical scenarios involving burning buildings or leaky lifeboats where you're asked if you'd save the puppy or the baby. First, why is it always a dog and a baby? Have we no imagination? What if you had to choose between, let's say, a piglet and an opossum? Or a rabbit and a baby rhinoceros? Then what? If the deciding factor is no longer our species versus any other species, what factor determines who gets saved? Familiarity? Cuteness? Fairness? And how the hell would you decide what's fair? And to whom? As for the hypothetical burning building, if I was babysitting my niece in my apartment and a fire broke out, speciest or not, I'm fairly certain I'd instinctively grab the baby before the kitty no matter which one I loved most.
So there you have it. Speciesism is a toughie, even if you're a vegan who believes that beings of all species have a right to their own lives, and that human animals don't have the right to discriminate based on species, especially when said discrimination is manifested in cruelty or exploitation.
I have, sadly, in the past year, removed several kinds of animals off the same road. :(
p.s. I was serious before -- feel free to explain or elaborate on the notion of speciesism if I haven't gotten it quite right.
(If any of these don't tickle your fancy, there are sanctuaries, rescue groups and animal shelters in your own area that would be delighted to receive some help.)
Don't know what to do with your time?
Ha, as if! again, right? And truthfully, I don't know of anyone complaining that they have too many hours in their day, and you certainly won't hear that coming from me. Just the opposite, in fact. It's been over a month that I've blogged, and I've missed it terribly. Even though my words probably don't reach that many, or make any kind of dent in the animal use and abuse industries that I despise, the writing of those words is one of the most satisfying things I do, something that puts me in the flow more than anything else.
So why haven't I been flowing more of late? In part because taking care of elderly animals (human and nonhuman) is both time-consuming and tiring, and because I have the bad habit of tackling chores before I do anything else. It's almost as if I'm trying to clear the way of obstacles before I do what I love most. Silly of course, because that means that what matters most gets left to the end and often undone. Obviously, I should tackle what's important to me first!
The elderly animals I mentioned often throw a wrench into my plans as well. My dad (my parents divorced nearly forty years ago) has recently moved into long-term care, but is still experiencing confusion, e.g., dressing himself at 2:00am. He lives about two hours away and I can't visit him often, but a trip is planned for this weekend. My mom is increasingly forgetting the names of things and is resorting to describing them instead, e.g., that place beside the big drugstore, instead of Tim Hortons and Shoppers Drug Mart. As a retired nurse who used to take care of patients with dementia, she is angrily in denial of any symptoms in herself. She has fallen about ten times since her hip replacement, but only remembers falling once. My cat is experiencing "senior moments" herself more frequently, and is taking the expression outside the box a little too litterally, snort. Plus working in a retirement home whose residents are aging can sometimes make me feel that I'm surrounded by beings who are all falling apart. Sad, and frustrating too.
The point of what I'm saying is that time is not on our side, and we have to do what makes us happy, and what we feel to be worthwhile, NOW instead of tomorrow. To that end, I need to be kind to myself and blog, even when I feel guilty for not keeping up enough with other blogs. Another source of guilt I've been wrestling with is that I've neglected my Etsy shop -- my heart just isn't in it anymore. But I've got all this stuff in my overstocked house that I want to get rid of, so luckily, inspiration struck the other day. Since I can't seem to get motivated for myself, why not for my favourite pink pig? Maybe by donating any net proceeds to the Esther campaign for the rest of this month, my enthusiasm will come back. To sum up, time and money are finite, so use wisely. Oink! ;)
The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The next best time is now. -- Chinese proverb
Throw out all the rules above except for #1 and #10
So, why did I make you read and then discard these lovely rules? Well, essentially, rules schmules! With the exception of rule #10, which I think is helpful enough that maybe it should be required reading for all vegans, I don't normally like articles that feature 7 Steps or 13 Rules or 16 Days or 22 Ways because they tend to be gimmicky, or promise easy solutions to things that are probably fairly complex.
Fourthly (why start with first, second or third?), while all of the above do-and-don't rules are perfectly fine (I try to follow most of them), I know that readers are smart, capable, and more than equipped to come up with their own guidelines for living the vegan life. As long as you stick to the principle of not consuming other sentient beings (rule #1), I trust you'll be able to figure out on your own the best way for you (uniquely wonderful you!) to be the most fabulous vegan you can possibly be. Yes? No?
At least, it took only one to change the world for guardians Steve and Derek, and in the process, Esther the Wonder Pig is continuing to change the worlds of numerous folk who follow her adventure. Not surprising, not only because Esther is just so darn cute, but because human animals seem hardwired to like a) stories, and b) specifics.
Yes, data and facts are important, but throw in a great narrative and we're much more likely to remember and respond to the material. Make the subject of the story a hero (especially animals defying human injustice) and you've got your audience's attention. Finally, make the story about a living being we can relate to (wouldn't each of us try to escape slaughter?) instead of an object that the ag death squads keep trying to turn animals into, and we're really hooked. We like stories, and why not?
As for numbers, even though billions of sentient beings suffer and die, the word billions doesn't seem to give us puny humans enough details. And that makes sense actually. Isn't $549.36 easier to comprehend than $1,000,000? Even in a mere million all those zeroes give us exactly nothing to grasp onto, which is why telling the story of one individual is often more effective than talking about billions of beings. We can't see the faces of that many, can't know the names, and can't follow a heartbreaking or heartwarming tale when too many are included. No wonder that even meat-eating omnivores may cheer on an individual pig or cow or chicken who has managed to escape the clutches of their otherwise familiar fate. We can and do relate to individuals and individual stories of chutzpah.
So on to the story of Esther, the 450lb "mini-pig" who's changing the world. She's become a celebrity, and you've probably heard of her already, but the exciting part is that the couple who adopted her, the couple whose world changed completely, is now trying to change more lives and more worlds by starting a sanctuary. Right here in Ontario -- yes! So let's just have Steve and Derek tell their tale, while I continue to tell you why I'm so pleased. First, a sanctuary. Always a good thing because the more rescued animals who can live out their lives in peace and safety, the better. Restitution, as I believe veganelder would call it. Second, in my province, woot. There are lots of famous sanctuaries and rescues south of the border, but I'll never step across, so it would be fabulous to have more places closer to home. Third, the guardians of Esther are a gay couple, so not only will they show that animal beings are part of the larger Family, they'll demonstrate that all kinds of human families make the world go round and that love and devotion are what counts, not blind allegiance to more traditional models of family. They're a world-changing couple in more ways than one. Finally, and most importantly, Esther the Wonder Pig!
So check out the campaign. Spread the story, and if you're able, please contribute financially. You could do it for yourself, or as a gift on behalf of a favourite mother for Mother's Day. Just think, if 100 readers donated $10, that would be a grand already. Now wouldn't that be just grand! :)